Rural narratives

Opinion: Why teenage pregnancy should be our concern if we aim for gender equality goals

Today as I sat down to reflect, I ended up having more questions than answers. Maybe someone out there might be able to help me out. Why can’t we be open-minded and speak about sex? Why is everyone quiet about it, including myself? How long is this silence going to last? Moreover, how many more girls do we want to see in this situation: school drop out, single parenting and many others? A visit to my hometown, and having had a close interaction with this young single mother and a school drop out triggered my reflections today.

I want to use this opinion piece to engage the society to see the need to have healthy interactions with girls and even with boys about sex. The societal setting in my part of the world has considered sex talk to be taboo or embarrassing. So, this silence is affecting young ones, especially girls. However, no one wants to talk about sex because society frowns and regards it as a taboo.

Baby nurturing, childcare,  girl orientation are required for the equity/equality or empowerment we talk about each day.  It all needs to start from that infant level. The kind of support, direction, and care we give to girls at the tender age have severe implications on whom they grow to become and how they are accepted in society. Groom girls the way they should be accepted, and they will be recognized that way. Moreover, this also gives them the confidence and good self-esteem and realization to become fully aware of themselves.  I think this should be one approach to achieve gender equality and avoid discrimination.

The school dropout rate is increasing among girls in rural communities, and we cannot achieve gender equality and quality education goals if this persists. Some drop out of school because of poverty. Others because they do not see role models whom they want to emulate, especially in a rural setting. However, the biggest among them is due to teenage pregnancy. Many factors account to this phenomenon: Inadequate parental support, which mostly emanates from poverty, negligence, and inability of the parent to support these girls in school with some basic needs.

Moreover, other times, they do not care about where the children are, and others also get involved with guys willingly. These guys exploit them sexually in turn to fulfil their needs. Many girls do not have anyone to help them through school, and when the boys offer to support in turn to be their boyfriends, the young ladies fall victims of such circumstance.

Although these problems persist, there have been various initiatives to support the girl child in Ghana. There is a girl child education unit in every district in Ghana charged with the responsibility to protect young adolescence girls. Also, many partnerships are initiated by the government of Ghana and NGOs to provide support to girls.  Another initiative by the Government of Ghana was providing necessary items such as sanitary pads to girls in school. This was expected to have minimized the dependence of girls on young men for some of these items. Ghana also signed many treaties to improve the well-being of children, especially girls. Because they appear to be the victims of unfavorable circumstances against sexual exploitation, child marriage, Female Genital Mutilation, and many others. Among these treaties include the Convention of Children’s act. However, I acknowledge implementation problems across the country.

This current crisis of COVID-19 which led to the closure of schools has even worsen the case. After interacting with this young mother, I have a feeling that figures on teenage pregnancy in rural communities might be higher than previous years.

I am motivated to contribute to these efforts to help reduce teenage pregnancy by using my life stories to inspire this young adolescence in rural communities. I feel that there is a need to interact and share our experiences with these girls and possibly engage parents and teachers to advance and provide a sustained advocacy campaign. I am motivated to break this cycle of which has been described by development experts as, “babies giving birth to babies,” which promotes a vicious cycle of “parasitic parenthood.”  It saddens my heart that in most cases, the young men deny responsibility, and the teenage girls assume responsibilities alone with the support of their parents.

Moreover, these parents may not in the first place be able to cater for that young girls, let alone they catching pregnancy and eventually giving birth. There are also extreme cases where girls, out of shame, attempt to abort their babies and lose their lives or develop life-threatening or life-changing complications. All these have undesirable social and economic implications on the society and the developmental agenda of the state as a whole.

I propose measures we can employ at our individual or organizational level to support girls. Firstly, I think our major efforts should be geared towards encouraging young girls to see the possibilities of developing themselves without depending on guys. High dependency always leads them to become young single mothers at an unprepared tender age. I also would like to suggest that we create an environment where young girls can have every chance to get their challenges and needs met through information sharing and interactive sessions.

 We can also create a very vibrant support system that reaches out to girls in their adolescence life through the following ways: 1. fostering a strong relationship between girls and their parents, where they get much support. 2. Build a social network of girls to inspire one another. 3. Creating locally available platforms for girls as a form of an information source. 4. Establishing a structural system where girls can quickly seek support about their young lives. I hope we all do something about it anywhere you are located, let the support for girls be our concern. You are free to share your view or attempt to suggest answers to my questions.

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